After a four-match stretch that included two international trips and one to the nation’s capital, the reigning champions will make their much-anticipated return home this weekend as Atlanta United hosts newcomers FC Cincinnati at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday. The Five Stripes will be thrilled to return to the fans in their home fortress, while the visitors will be looking for their first MLS win in club history –– so both sides will be pushing for three points.
It all starts at 5 p.m. EST on Sunday, March 10th. Click here for all the information on how to tune in to the match.
Atlanta United (0-1-0)
Atlanta United has started 2019 with a tough stretch of matches to start the season: a tricky trip to Costa Rica, a match on the road against an Eastern Conference contender in DC United followed by a trip to Monterrey, Mexico to face one of the powerhouses in all of North American soccer in Rayados. While the games are already piling up thick and fast, the Five Stripes get to finally come home to the friendly confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium –- and they’ll be confident against anyone in front of a packed house decked out in red, black and gold.
Newcomer Pity Martinez will aim to be the chief creator in midfield, and with each touch he continues to develop the chemistry needed to form a dynamic partnership with the reigning MLS MVP, Josef Martinez, leading the attacking line. They have been spearheading the attack alongside the dynamic dribbling ability of Ezequiel Barco in the attacking trident. But with this match the fourth for the team in just ten days, head coach Frank de Boer may resort to his plenty of other options in attack, with players like Tito Villalba and Andrew Carleton eager to show they can contribute in a starting capacity. Fans will have to wait and see if Julian Gressel will be fit to go after taking a knock in training last week, with fellow fullbacks Franco Escobar and George Bello also on their way back to full fitness.
They sit in front of a defensive line that is eager to rebound from a tough midweek outing in Mexico. With Leandro González Pirez suspended for the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals, fans can probably expect him to get a starting spot. Miles Robinson and Michael Parkhurst have been the first-choice back line so far, but De Boer could opt for rotation. Whoever lines up, they’ll be eager to show they are more watertight than they showed in the midweek, and with a dominant defensive record at home last year, they’ll know they can beat anyone with a packed house of 17’s behind them.
FC Cincinnati (0-1-0)
The newest squad in MLS, 2019 expansion side FC Cincinnati are still looking for their first ever MLS win after their opening weekend loss on the road in Seattle last weekend. While they may be underdogs against the reigning champions, they would want nothing more than to spoil Atlanta United’s homecoming for their first ever win.
There will be a familiar face on the sidelines, with Greg Garza making his return to Atlanta for the first time since his offseason move up North. But with a lingering hip issue expected to force him to the sidelines this weekend, it’s another U.S international that could be the headliner for them this weekend: attacking midfielder Kenny Saeif joined the club on loan this past week and could make his debut as early as this weekend. The tricky winger has been plying his trade at Belgian giants Anderlecht, and will be motivated to get off to a fast start in MLS. He’ll try to feed a proven MLS striker in Fenando Adi, one of the top scorers in Portland Timbers history who joined FC Cincinnati a year ago, but couldn’t get off the mark against the Sounders last weekend. Rounding out the midfield are former FC Dallas stars Roland Lamah and Victor Ulloa, former Houston Dynamo winger Eric Alexander and attacking midfielder Corben Bone –– a team leader who has risen the ranks with the team after starting their inaugural match in USL in 2016. And of course the Five Stripes will have to keep an eye out on central midfielder Leo Bertone, who scored a stunning volley for the first MLS goal in team history last week.
In the back is a formidable line of MLS veterans. Anchoring the defense is team captain Kendall Waston, one of the league’s premier defenders over the past five years since joining from the Costa Rican league in 2014. Next to him will be two players with championship pedigree: Cincinnati native Nick Hagglund, who joined from Toronto FC this offseason, and Jamaican international Alvas Powell at right back, who raised a trophy with the Portland Timbers just a few years ago. It’s a team built on a strong defensive foundation, and with dynamic attackers like Kekuta Manneh, Darren Mattocks and last year’s USL MVP Emmanuel Ledesma available off the bench, they have enough firepower to trouble anyone.
Sunday’s match kicks off at 5 p.m. EST, and will be broadcast on ESPN. You can also listen in on Star 94.1 FM or the Atlanta United app –– and with another home spectacle at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the cards, it will be one you won’t want to miss. Click here for everything you need to know about how to follow the match.